Sunday, July 3, 2022

Global sex differences in hygiene norms and their relation to sex equality

Global sex differences in hygiene norms and their relation to sex equality. Kimmo Eriksson,Thomas E. Dickins, Pontus Strimling. PLOS Glob Public Health 2(6): e0000591. June 21, 2022.

Abstract: Strict norms about hygiene may sometimes have health benefits but may also be a burden. Based on research in the United States, it has been suggested that women traditionally shoulder responsibility for hygiene standards and therefore tend to have stricter views on hygiene. However, there is little systematic research on sex differences in hygiene norms at the global scale. We set up two hypotheses: (1) Stricter hygiene norms among women than among men is a global phenomenon. (2) The size of this sex difference varies across nations with the level of sex equality. We examine these hypotheses using data from a recent international survey (N = 17,632). Participants in 56 countries were asked for their views of where it is not appropriate for people to spit and in which situations people should wash their hands. As a measure of sex equality, we use an existing country-level measure of attitudes to equality between the sexes, available for 49 nations in the study. Stricter hygiene norms among women than among men are observed almost everywhere, but there are a few exceptions (most notably Nigeria and Saudi Arabia). The size of the sex difference in hygiene norms varies strongly with the level of sex equality, but in a non-linear way. The sex difference is most pronounced in moderately egalitarian countries with the highest recorded difference being in Chile. In more egalitarian parts of the world, more sex equality is associated with a smaller sex difference in hygiene norms. In the less egalitarian parts of the world, the opposite relation holds. We offer an interpretation in terms of what different levels of sex equality mean for the content of sex roles.


Using data in 56 countries, the current study provided a comprehensive analysis of the sex difference in hygiene strictness. We studied a set of norms about when you should wash your hands and where you should not spit. Globally, we found norms about handwashing to be slightly stricter among women than among men. The direction of this sex difference is consistent with findings in many single-country behavioral studies of handwashing [1115]. We found even more substantial sex differences in the strictness of spitting norms. This is an important novel finding as no prior studies have examined sex differences in spitting. Perhaps it is related to men producing more saliva than women do [31], as this might create a stronger preference in favor of spitting. It is possible that spitting elicits a stronger disgust response in women by association because spitting is an innate behavioral response to remove noxious material from the mouth [32]. But there are also differences in the types of norms the two behaviors are involved in. For one thing, handwashing norms are prescriptive while norms about spitting are proscriptive. For another, handwashing is primarily a private good while strictness about spitting is primarily a public good. Moreover, the handwashing norms we studied were concerned with when you should wash your hands whereas the spitting norms were concerned with where you should not spit. This could play a role as culture may restrict women’s access to certain locations (e.g., soccer pitches). Future work may examine the specific roles of these factors.

Our first hypothesis was that the sex difference in hygiene strictness would be observed everywhere. In our dataset, we observed the sex difference in most countries but not all. Two countries, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, were clear exceptions in that men reported stricter hygiene norms than women. To validate this finding, we searched for prior studies of hygiene in any of these countries that report results separately for men and women. We found two such studies for Saudi Arabia, both of which indeed reported stricter hygiene among men than among women [3334]. Thus, our findings are consistent with prior literature. We conclude that sex difference in hygiene strictness is nearly universal but that the presence of clear exceptions demonstrates that there is some cultural moderator that needs to be understood.

Our second hypothesis examined a proposed cultural moderator: the level of sex equality in society. We operationalized societal sex equality by the average attitude to sex equality with respect to participation in the job market, in politics, and in higher education. Such attitudes can be taken as a proxy for the strength, or weakness, of sex roles. Some authors have attributed stricter hygiene norms among women to sex roles [221]. However, a more complex picture emerged in our data. The sex difference in hygiene strictness was often larger in countries with above-average levels of sex equality than in countries with below-average levels of sex equality. This finding is in keeping with many behavioral and somatic sex difference results and Schmitt has argued that biological sex differences can be moderated and facilitated by specific cultural contexts [16]. To our knowledge it has not be shown for the contents of normative beliefs. Within these groups of countries, the sex difference in hygiene strictness varied with the level of sex equality in different ways. Among countries with above-average sex equality, the sex difference in handwashing strictness showed no relation with sex equality whereas the sex difference in spitting strictness showed a negative relation with sex equality. Thus, the hypothesis was partially supported in this group of countries. Results looked very different in the group of countries with below-average levels of sex equality. In this group, the expected sex difference was most pronounced at the high end of sex equality, that is, at global average levels of sex equality. In countries with greater inequality, the sex difference in hygiene strictness disappeared and even became reversed at extreme levels of inequality (Saudi Arabia and Nigeria). This reversal suggests a flexible connection, if any, between hygiene norms and established sex differences in disgust sensitivity. But it is possible that the underlying asymmetry in inclusive fitness costs is something that can drive either male or female custodianship of hygiene, and hence difference in hygiene strictness, dependent upon key social ecological factors. Our analyses strongly supported that sex equality is a key factor. Specifically, while prior research has found that pathogen prevalence and religiosity may be more important factors behind sex differences in other domains [16], we found the level of sex equality do be a much stronger predictor of sex differences in hygiene.

In sum, we have found that there is substantial cultural variability in the extent to which women have stricter hygiene norms than men do, and it is quite strongly related to sex equality—but in a non-linear way. A possible interpretation of this unexpected finding is that the full spectrum of sex inequality encompasses several distinct phenomena. If we hold on to the notion that the sex difference is due to sex roles giving women a greater responsibility for maintaining hygiene in society, how could this responsibility vary across different levels of gender inequality? In moderately unequal societies, both women and men are fully responsible, but they tend to have different responsibilities. Women and men are seen as working together in a family unit where she is responsible for raising the children and keeping the home clean while he is responsible for bringing home most of the income. It is in these societies we would expect women to be more responsible for hygiene. As societies become more egalitarian, these sex roles weaken, and we would expect a decline in the sex difference in hygiene. In the most unequal societies, however, it is arguably men that have the responsibility in that they make decisions about the whole family’s behavior and are held responsible for the behavior of their wives or daughters. As a case in point, all women in the extremely unequal society of Saudi Arabia have a legal male guardian who is responsible for them [35]. Among other things, this ultra-low level of women’s responsibility means a lower level of responsibility for hygiene. Sex segregation in Saudi Arabia also implies that women are allowed less mobility and thereby potentially less exposure to situations and things that may motivate hygiene norms, in this way moderating any underlying biological sex differences [16]. This could be examined in future research.


Limitations of the data were discussed by Eriksson et al. [8]. Most importantly, as the data are limited to hand washing and spitting norms, we cannot say whether the sex difference in hygiene strictness generalizes to other hygiene-related behaviors, such as washing the whole body, washing clothes, coughing, sneezing, and urinating. Other limitations include that African countries and small countries were undersampled, that socioeconomic stratification within countries is not measured, and that samples per country are sometimes quite small and not necessarily representative. However, these may not be major concerns, as prior analyses of data from these samples successfully replicate country-level variation in cultural values found in representative samples [2236]. Another limitation is that we do not have data on participants’ knowledge of objective benefits of hygiene.

Dominance judgments—important across numerous psychological domains, like attractiveness, leadership, & legal decision-making—accurately predict the likelihood with which a potential mate, ally, or rival can incapacitate their adversaries

Caton, Neil R., Lachlan M. Brown, Amy Zhao, and Barnaby Dixson. 2022. “Human Male Body Size Predicts Increased Knockout Power, Which Is Accurately Tracked by Conspecific Judgments of Male Dominance.” PsyArXiv. June 29. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Humans have undergone a long evolutionary history of violent agonistic exchanges, which would have placed selective pressures on greater body size and the psychophysical systems that detect them. The present work showed that greater body size in humans predicted increased knockout power during contests (Study 1a-1b: total N = 5,866; Study 2: N = 44 openweight fights). In agonistic exchanges reflective of ancestral size asymmetries, heavier combatants were 300% more likely to win against their lighter counterparts solely because they were 300% more likely to knock them out (Study 2). Greater body size afforded no other fighting performance advantages other than increased knockout power (Studies 1-2). Human dominance judgments (total N = 500 MTurkers) accurately tracked the frequency with which men (N = 516) had knocked out similar sized adversaries (Study 3). Humans were able to directly perceive a man’s knockout power solely because they were attending to cues of a man’s body size. Human dominance judgments—which are important across numerous psychological domains, including attractiveness, leadership, and legal decision-making—accurately predict the likelihood with which a potential mate, ally, or rival can incapacitate their adversaries.

Do the Big Five Personality Traits Interact to Predict Life Outcomes? Systematically Testing the Prevalence, Nature, and Effect Size of Trait by Trait Moderation

Vize, Colin, Brinkley M. Sharpe, Josh Miller, Donald Lynam, and Christopher J. Soto. 2022. “Do the Big Five Personality Traits Interact to Predict Life Outcomes? Systematically Testing the Prevalence, Nature, and Effect Size of Trait by Trait Moderation.” PsyArXiv. June 28. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Personality researchers have posited multiple ways in which the relations between personality traits and life outcomes may be moderated by other traits, but there are well-known difficulties in reliable detection of such trait-by-trait interaction effects. Estimating the prevalence and magnitude base-rates of trait-by-trait interactions would help to assess whether a given study is suited to detect interaction effects. We used the Life Outcomes of Personality Replication Project dataset to estimate the prevalence, nature, and magnitude of trait-by-trait interactions across 81 self-reported life outcomes (n ≥ 1,350 per outcome). Outcome samples were divided into two halves to examine the replicability of observed interaction effects using both traditional and machine-learning indices. The study was adequately powered (1 − β ≥ .80) to detect the smallest interaction effects of interest (interactions accounting for a ΔR2 of approximately .01) for 78 of the 81 (96%) outcomes in each of the partitioned samples. Results showed that only 40 interactions (5.33% of the original 750 tests) showed evidence of strong replicability through robustness checks (i.e., demographic covariates, Tobit regression, ordinal regression). Interactions were also uniformly small in magnitude. Future directions for research on trait-by-trait interactions are discussed.

Divergent thinking and creative achievement—Marginally relevant link

Said-Metwaly, S., Taylor, C. L., Camarda, A., & Barbot, B. (2022). Divergent thinking and creative achievement—How strong is the link? An updated meta-analysis. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication.

Abstract: Achieving creativity in the real-world depends on multiple individual and environmental factors. Among them, divergent thinking (DT) has long been considered a key ingredient of creativity and an essential criterion for predicting real-life creative outcomes. However, the link between DT and creative achievement (CA) has yielded heterogeneous results, as outlined by a prior meta-analysis on the DT–CA link published in 2008. Given several limitations of this meta-analysis and the large body of relevant studies that have been published since then, the present article aimed to offer an updated and methodologically rigorous meta-analytical examination of the DT–CA link. A total of 766 effect sizes from 70 studies encompassing 14,901 subjects were analyzed using a meta-analytic three-level model. The results showed that DT was positively, albeit weakly, linked to CA, with only 3% of shared variance. Moderator analyses indicated that this link was robust to variations in DT and CA measures used, gender, educational level, measurement interval between DT and CA, and country of study, but differed by DT task modality, CA domain, and intellectual giftedness. Specifically, the strength of the DT–CA link was significantly larger for (a) verbal DT tasks, (b) CA in the performance domain, and (c) gifted subjects. A significant interaction effect was also found between CA domain and intellectual giftedness, with the DT–CA link being strongest among gifted subjects in the performance domain. Implications of these results for the study and measurement of creativity are discussed.